Transcendental by James Gunn 

Riley, a veteran of interstellar war,  however, is not journeying to achieve transcendence, a vague mystical concept that has drawn everyone else on the ship to this journey into the unknown at the far edge of the galaxy. His mission is to find and kill the prophet who is reputed to help others transcend. As the ship speeds through space, the voyage is marred by violence and betrayal, making it clear that Riley is not the only one of the ship’s passengers who is not the spiritual seeker they all claim to be.

As tensions rise, Riley realizes that the ship’s journey is less like the Canterbury Tales and more like a harrowing, deadly voyage on a ship of fools. Looking for allies, he becomes friendly with a mysterious passenger named Asha, who, like so many others on the ship, is more than she appears. But while she professes to be just another pilgrim, he comes to realize that like him, she is keeping secrets could be the key to Riley’s assignment, or might make him question everything he thought he knew about Transcendentalism and his mission to stop it.

Transcendental is the latest book written by Hugo award winning author James Gunn. When I found out that James Gunn was termed the Grand Master of Science Fiction my hopes were directly raised and was awaiting a stellar story! James Gunn was the founder of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction and professor emeritus at the University of Kansas. Since starting his writing career in 1948, James Gunn has written 26 books, edited another 18 and published almost a 100 stories in various magazines and other books. 
The synopsis of Transcendental really spoke to me, all that is promised in here really invited a great deep space story line. However soon after I started reading the story took a turn toward a quite different story. And looking back on the whole story, it has been a interesting, eventful and great experience. Yes there is a definite amount of action hidden within Transcendental but the focus of the storyline is more on different expects, higher ulterior motives. Like self-discovery, fighting for your believes and even possible redemption. These other motives transformed the storyline to a whole new level. 

In Transcendental the main focus is on Riley, an veteran of the interstellar war. Who now finds himself on a ship without any prior knowledge of how it all came to be. Riley comes over as a bit disoriented and not really knowing what he is doing, or at least why he was set on joining the pilgrims, he isn't seeking transcendence for starters. Riley's mission is to stop the Prophet at all costs in order to stop other people and galactics to gain transcendence. For me Riley was shown in a great way, he is still rediscovering himself and helping him is a small voice is his head, his pedia and kind of processor that gives him explanations and helps him translate different languages, but also feels like this pedia has a AI touch to it, especially by what happens later on. The pedia of Riley proved to add another layer in the mix, because if it is hardwired into the brain and can commune, what else can it do? Force or influence certain actions? Riley’s character only becomes more stronger throughout the book as you see him taking the lead to let the mission end in the best possible way. This brings me to a second aspect of the Transcendental, the multiple-species galaxy. 

There are a few different species that all seek transcendence, each having their own reason. Now from the beginning that you are introduced to them on the spaceship Geoffrey, there is a heavy tension in the air. Each of the Galactic race has his or her own relation with a different race, often for the worse, which when you put the different races in a single space for a long time cane cause friction. In trying to calm it, Riley really jumps to the occasion, but on the backdrop of the story you still feel it as the pages fly by. The main aspect that sets Transcendental apart is the way that each galactics story is shown. Like I said there are different galactic pilgrims that each seek transcendence for their own reasons. But instead of just saying why, James Gunn gives a detail narration of how they came to seek it. And looking back on these individual stories proves to be a true pleasure indeed. James Gunn gives in a manner of a few pages such a rich and detailed descriptions of their past, that really gives more depth to the story of Transcendental. Just to name a few you have a floral–alien called 4107, a roughlike alien named Todor and a weasel/rogue-like alien called Xi. Each of these really were solid stories on their own and showed so much of the imagined universe and relations among several species. One of the stories really stood out for me and that was of the floral 4107, his story is quite compelling and when you reflect that on his whole race and how he is shown, the fragility of it produces this much stronger feeling. It was a great pleasure to read these individual stories. 

The main storyline of Transcendental isn’t without any twists and turns. From the beginning of Riley’s adventure, he has to face off an barbarian attack and the perils doesn’t stop there. As soon as the ship is underway the story only really takes off. As now the pressure starts to mount and each galactic pilgrim is doing what is best for him/her/it. Just shortly after leaving, murders are being committed and no suspect can be appointed and even more so with rumors that the Prophet is among the crew everyone become suspicious. On top of this all is the relation of Riley with the captain of the Geoffrey, which proves to go back a long time but isn’t fully in the advantage of Riley himself. James Gunn wrote up these scenes in a addictive kind of way that readily pulled me into the story eager to find out how everything would be connected and at about the 2/3 mark you learn who the Prophet is, and if you think this would be the end of the story you are wrong, as now several things become clear for Riley but a certain pressure is also resting on his shoulders… because it is his job to kill the Prophet. Instead of letting the story fall into a bore, James Gunn takes all the earlier stories and what was build up with the main storyline further and throws the reader into a rapid pacing towards the end. The ending of Transcendental was totally something different of what I was expecting but proved to be just as amazing and leaves the story open for possible continuation, which I for one hope to see. I hope Transcendental is just the beginning, because if so, were in for quite a ride!

Transcendental is a book that turned out different from what I was expecting, but saying this a very positive way! I was expecting deep space fights but was given an unique take on science fiction. James Gunn shows that the Science Fiction genre is more than space battle and laser guns and talks the higher motives in Transcendental like who is right and who is wrong? Who deserves something more than the other? How can you justify your motives. Showing and tackling these motive can be heavy stuff, but mainly by highlighting these in the dialogues of several characters and the individual stories of them gave a clear grip on them. This was a definite plus of Transcendental. I have to admit that it took some getting used to but that this wasn’t the way that the story was written. James Gunn writing style is absorbing and quite addictive after a while. If you are looking for a science fiction story, that turn the table quite a few degrees of what you normally see, get Transcendental, it’s just as much a journey for you as it is for the pilgrims in the story!   

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